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Moving Heads – a history

June 20th, 2013 Posted in worth knowing Tags: ,

Bildschirmfoto 2013-06-20 um 15.43.34

Barbecue and Genesis

For a good meal, the right ingredients are indispensable. For a good light show, the equipment is. And for more than 25 years now, Moving Head spots are part of this equipment. They’re not only a part of it, but have become essential and integral for lighting technology. No concert, no TV show would do without the use of these multifunctional spots. But who invented them?

It wasn’t the Swiss this time. The spots took their first steps in the USA. In 1970, Showco was founded and emerged as one of the leading providers of PA and lighting installations at live events. After a few years, Showco could boast some really illustrious customers like Led Zeppelin, The Who, David Bowie and Genesis. But the Americans had competitors from England, who used aluminum instead of steel for their PAR cans and experimented with new dimmer technologies, breaking new ground with devices working more efficiently. The financial losses grew so big, that Showco really thought about giving up and retiring from the lighting business. But it shouldn’t come to that.


The saving grace turned out to be two technical developments: dichroitic color filters and a new generation of discharge lamps: halogen metal halide. Until then, all attempts to create a spot which changes colors, failed. But now, Jim Bornhost from Showco saw the chance to realize his idea. Together with John Covington, he developed a completely new kind of spot, with a color wheel on the inside and a discharge lamp. Tom Walsh and John Brooky Taylor concentrated on the new kind of controlling. But, as often reported about new inventions, coincidence also came into play. The Showco group went to have dinner at a barbecue restaurant. During dinner, while they were talking about the current state of development, one of the Showco bosses groaned in exasperation: „If you build two motors on the thing, it’ll even move.” What was originally meant as an ironic remark, became a sure-fire success. Hence, the intended color changer became equipped with motors. In December 1980, 12 weeks after visiting the restaurant, the prototype of an animated spot with remote control was finalized.

One of the first men who saw the Moving Head was Alan Owen, long time lighting designer of the band Genesis. Genesis and Showco enjoyed a cordial relationship. After convincing Owen with a short demonstration on a parking lot, the developers introduced the Moving Head to the band members Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks. Genesis had always been a group which embraced new inventions. The spot could again persuade and the band ordered 50 devices for their upcoming Abacap tour. Thus, a new era began on September 25th, 1981 in a bullfighting arena in Barcelona. Genesis initiated its tour with the support of 50 Vari*Lite-VL1-spots, which provided impressive effects and launched the triumphal rise of Moving Head lighting effect devices, that continues until today.

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